tv Charlie Rose PBS November 23, 2013 12:00am-1:01am PST
>> rose: welcome to the program. tonight, 50 years after the assassination of president kennedy in dallas we remember and assess his legacy with robert dallek, jeff greenfield, richard reeves, michael beschloss, and jill abramson. >> among the many thing he is did politically-- and i think he was a relatively good president-- the fact of the matter is, the most important thing about him-- partly because of his health-- is that he did not wait his turn. he destroyed the system that would not have made him president. he didn't wait his turn and now in america no one does. >> put aside all the myth, put it all aside, this was somebody who excited and aroused the country to a kind of civic interest that i think would not have happened had he not been president. >> rose: we conclude with clint hill, the secret service agent
who climbed aboard the presidential limousine as it sped to parkland hospital with the dying president. >> i still have a sense that that we had a responsibility to do that day st. we failed in that responsibility. the way i was brought up was that if you have a job to do you carry it throw the end result and in that day i wasn't able to. and that's what has always bothered me is that i wasn't able to do anything. because i was the only one who had a chance. >> rose: a historical appreciation of president kennedy and a conversation with clint hill, the secret service agent who climbed aboard the presidential limousine as it sped to parkland hospital. next.
captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> we chose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy but because they are hard. because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and the field because that challenge is one that we're willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone and one we intend to win. >> rose: it has been 50 years since president john f. kennedy was assassinated in dallas on november 22, 1963.
james reston of the "new york times" wrote that day "america went tonight not alone for its dead young president but for itself." half a century later the the kennedy administration is a symbol of a more hopeful era. his death remains a source of fascination and controversy for many americans. here are two examples of his speeches. one, a civil rights speech, the other a speech at american university about america's role in the world. and also kennedy at a press conference. >> we are confronted primarily with a moral issue. it as s as old as the scriptures and as clear as the american constitution. the heart of the question is whether all americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities. whether we are going to treat our fellow americans as we want to be treated. and if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for
diversity. for in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's future and we are all mortal. >> the congressman criticized mr. salinger as a "young and inexperienced white house publicity man." (laughter) and questioned the advisability of having him visit the soviet union. i wonder if you have any comments. >> i know there are always some people who feel that americans are always a young, inexperienced and foreigners are always able and tough and great negotiators. i saw the president said that mr. salinger's main job was to increase my standing in the gallup polls. having done that, he's now moving on -- (laughter)
-- to improve my communications. >> rose: joining know discuss this man and his presidency is robert dallek, a presidential historian and the author of "camelot's court: inside the kennedy white house." his previous book about president kennedy was called "an unfinished life." also here this evening, richard reeves, a senior lecture which you arer at the university of southern california. he also wrote a kennedy book called "president kennedy, a prefile of power." and jeff greenfield joins us. he is a political analyst and author of a new book "if kennedy lived." he's written about politics all his life. jill abramson is the executive editor of the "new york times." he also has written a piece that's gotten a lot of attention in the "new york times" book review called "an elusive president." and joining us from washington, michael beschloss. he is a presidential historian and regular contributor to pbs newshour and nbc news. i am pleased to have all of them here this evening to reflect on president john f. kennedy.
let me begin with jill abramson because she wrote a piece that captured my attention and set out to talk about 50 years of books being written about this man. give me a sense of what we know and what these books tell us and whether-- because i'm fascinated by the fact-- that you think a great biography remains to be written. >> i think a truly great book about john f. kennedy remains to be written. >> rose: even though there's been 40,000 written. >> i know. more than almost anyone except for lincoln. i think his story is the quintessential great american life story and the material is surely there and there have been many very, very good books including ones written by all fellow guests here on your show tonight. (laughter) so i don't want to carry -- overstate the point.
>> rose: of which these books were mentioned in your piece. let's begin by -- give your your sense of what it was about this man, this presidency and then we'll get into the varying opinions. i'll start with you, jeff. >> you go from the oldest president ever elected to the youngest. glamorous, apparently vigorous, with a wife who is-- and people still gasp when you remind them-- 31 years old as first lady. so the symbol of -- the torch being passed is more than rhetoric. it was in front of you everyday. and the second thing is i remember being in college-- granted, this wasn't the football team, but we would gather in front of the television set to watch his afternoon press conferences live because he was so interesting and funny and sharp. and so he made civic engagement cool for at least a wide swath of people.
when you go through the failures and foibles that is beyond mythology, it was true. it was something about the that this was the leader of the united states that made a lot of people go "wow. this is a guy i care about and i'm interested in." >> rose: michael? the man and the story? >> well, needless to stay fact that he was taken in the way that he did at the age of 46 makes it -- adds to the drama. but i think we wouldn't be interested all these years later if those years were not a time where an awful lot happened and they was center of it. i mean, take two things: the biggest thing in domestic policy was civil rights. kennedy took a while to do it but in june of 1963 sent the first big comprehensive civil rights bill to congress saying that everyone could use hotels, restaurants, and other public places. he interacted with the big issue domestically in a way other leaders had not. and then in international terms, obviously struggle with the soviet union. you can argue how much he did
that may have led to the cuban missile crisis, but what -- once he was here i'd want j.f.k. as my president because he was able to guide us through it and in retrospect can you imagine if he had not been able to do it and tens of millions of people had lost their lives as a result of these cuban missiles. >> rose: richard? >> i think he's, among other things, a cultural icon as well. the politics of the day-- which we all know-- is not everything the american people knew but the kennedys taught us how to be a rich country. how to dress, how to think about high culture and i think that lives on beyond political events. he changed our ambitions and he recreated the way you become president. pretty much proved the biggest qualification was wanting it. he wanted it and he got it and the old political system was
gone and now we had this new young president >> people don't remember what the presidents do? woodrow wilson did the federal reserve. do they even remember roosevelt and social security? i love the anecdote about the guy who said "i don't want the federal government fooling with my medicare!" you know, it's this idea that what they remember is rhetoric. and kennedy "ask not what your country can do for you." reagan "morning in america. the pride is back." so i think we make connections. and television. television is enormously important. kennedy froze if our lives at the age of 96. if he were alive he'd be 96 years old. but if he walked into this room at the age of 46 he'd look like one of us. he'd still have a kind of presence. >> you give us a lot more credit. (laughter)
>> rose: michael, go ahead. >> he also had a little bit easier than later presidents because, for instance, when jeff was watching those press conferences in the afternoon, there were three networks. how many of the networks covered the press conferences, jeff? and when he gave the cuban missile cry speech, 90% of the country was watching so the president's voice was so much louder than everyone elses. now it's almost impossible for a president to do that, no matter how good the rhetoric is. >> rose: you call the fact that there was not more known about his health one of the undiscovered large issues of american history. >> right. it was a coverup. arthur schlesinger and -- ted kennedy told me he didn't know that much about his brother's health until he read my book. that's how hid it will whole darn thing was. but ted sorensen was furious at me. it was a three person committee
and they was last one i saw in new york, talked him into letting me into the medical records. i said "i haven't been studying all these politicians for years for nothing." he was angry at me. and he said "there was no coverup. no coverup." i never argued with him. of course there was a coverup. >> bobby knew about the amphetamines and dr. feel-good. >> most people do now. >> most before didn't know, either. >> the thing that's interesting isn't just the coverup, though. because, actually, when i finish mr. dallek's fantastic biography and realized both the breadth and depth of these health problems it makes you see kennedy in a more heroic light. >> rose: how bad was the health? how did it affect his life and was it heroic the fact that he lived with something that serious? >> well, it was very bad. he was hospitaled for 44 days a number of times in the 1950s.
>> rose: given the last rites. >> three times he received the last rites. >> and a number of physicians i spoke to told me they don't know if he would have lived that much longer or well into his 50s or something like that. so it was a serious issue. but they hid it. and the day after he was elected it was a press conference and some reporter asked bobby kennedy "what about your brother's health?" he said "he's in excellent health." well, they were not going to 'fess up to the fact that this was a man who lived on the edge. now, what saved him in a sense were the medications he was taking. without those medications i don't think he could have functioned the way he did. >> rose: how much of the way we feel today, do you think, at least is a tribute to his sense of history, sense of public image, his sense of trying to control the image, and his sense of friendship with journalism?
>> well, i think all those things. obviously he felt more strongly about -- news smgt a term of action they used in those days at the time. but the person who was perhaps more active in this was jackie kennedy. because she comes back from dallas on the evening of the 22nd of november and already she was beginning to think, you know jack has only had two years and ten months, he's been robbed of the ability to be thought of as a great president. she literally began thinking about what the library should look like. talked to arthur schlesinger about writing his book and she had this feeling that since he had been robbed of the opportunity to write memoirs and do other things to defend himself she would have to go into the breach. and for someone who was not an historian and had not been particularly converse sant with american history, that was almost a full-time thing for her for the next year. >> rose: i'm struck by her-- and i know from jill-- the idea about william manchester's book. did she -- reportedly did not
read it for a number of years. >> she didn't read it until after she had gone to court to prevent its publication. >> rose: finally read it. >> she read it and pronounced it fascinating. and it is. >> rose: we mentioned as i sat down two big speeches, the civil rights speech and the american university commencement speech. what do they represent in terms of john. if ken sdpli? >> what they represent to me is that we don't elect presidents to manage the government. we elect presidents and heads of state to lead the nation and both he and then reagan in our lifetime -- it was their rhetoric, their words, their manner that reached the american people. going back to what bob said about smaller events. nobody remember whether lincoln balanced the budget. presidents are judged on two or three big things. and usually something that had
nothing do with the campaign. it's a total surprise, whether it's benghazi or b.p. in the gulf or what not. it's a reactive job. >> rose: i mean president kennedy definitely recognized the power of words i think we can all agree on that. and even though it's true the 1965 civil rights act was passed by lyndon johnson and we don't know if he had lived whether kennedy would have achieved that. but in his speech on civil rights he did frame the issue as a moral issue. and that language and that word had incredible impact. >> rose: but those two speeches were mentioned. they were in a sense game changers. >> rose: why the american university speech? >> because the american university speech said we need to rethink the which we look at the soviet union. now, remember this comes after the cuban missile crisis. he and kruschev were both, i think, so stunned and frightened
by the fact that they came so close to a nuclear war and kennedy was so eager after that to get this nuclear test ban treaty with the soviets and kruschev was, too. because he invited the americans to come, and they got that done overnight. they had been hassling about that for years. >> what's fascinateing is when he went to berlin, conservatives always make this point. he says there are some who think we can get along with the soviet union. let them come to berlin-- which is pretty hawkish. except a month or so later he's signing the nuclear test ban treaty. and that's the game changer on both those speeches. the civil rights and american university speeches. how drastic a change it is from 1960. read his 1960 speeches you think you're listening to one of the joint chiefs of staff. and he was a team porizer on civil rights. >> well, everybody was. >> by 1963 he is declaring "this is a moral issue."
no president ever said that. and he stated this whole cold war frame has to be rethought. more than 48 hours of each over. quite remarkable. >> and he said during the '60 campaign "kick off the ten things that will get this damn civil rights thing off the agenda." that's the campaigner. >> rose: michael, you wanted to say in >> you were talking about those two speechs? i would say if you want one 48 hours that tells you a lot about kennedy's leadership, those are the 48. ideologically, if he had come in with a big landslide in the 1960 and a strong position in the house and senate he probably would have given those speeches on the 21st of january or said those things at his inaugural address. intellectually he was there when he became president but the reason why it took two and a half years was kennedy never wanted to be what he called a liberal martyr. he always wanted to wait for the
political situation to ripen and bob, s right about the missile crisis. it changed domestic opinion in this country so that americans hadn't been through that close call were much more ready to think of a president who wanted detente and a test ban treaty. and as far as civil rights, by the summer of 1963 the revolution was in full swing and kennedy was able to say to conservatives in this country and people who were at least tepid about civil rights, the alternative to this a revolution in the streets. let me at least propose a law that's going to take it back into the halls of government. >> rose: let's also talk about how he grew in office (he learned from the problem with the steel business. he learned from the bay of pigs. >> absolutely! i mean, that was, i think, the bitterest lesson of all. but, oddly, with the bay of pigs has an interesting little historical wrinkle involve the "times" in that the "new york times" washington bureau actually got on to the fact that
the bay of pigs invasion was impending and kennedy went to the paper and asked the paper to withhold publication and it did and then after everything went to pieces in cuba he actually said to scottie reston that he wished the "times" had gone ahead and published the damn piece because it would have saved him from his worst mistake in office. >> absolutely. the and not only saved him from the mistake but it tells you something so important. that is if that operation-- which was supposed to be secret-- had gotten so public that it was getting to reporters and editors in washington and new york he should have said "well, this is now out, it should be shut d which he didn't do. >> well, we would have been lucky if it had been shut down. >> but i think we can agree he did learn in office to charlie's point that when you flash forward to the cuban missile crisis and how he handled that, in contrast to the bay of pigs,
a lot has been -- >> totally different person. >> put that into context. he was a president who won the election by 118,000 votes and he brings -- he keeps alan dulles on, brings in mack bundy and mcnamara, both republicans. he's very concerned that if he doesn't let the bay of pigs operation go forward the exiles are going to spill the beans and they're going to rip him off politically. he's weak, he's afraid, he doesn't have the guts to stand up to the soviets so there's tremendous political pressure on them to do this. even though he has the skepticism. >> once he learned through the presidency, i would say, was a very valuable lesson for him or for any president. what he learned was that he and kruschev were both politicians. they just had a different system than we did. and then they -- that's what connected at the end of the --
at the end of the missile crisis and, of course, chus cef paid the price because his own people saw this as a military maneuver when kennedy and kruschev realized it was the political clash of all time. >> and that's why the missile crisis to me is to hinge moment of the whole presidency. because the whole first year and a half is defined by a disastrous vienna summit. he builds the wall in berlin, there's a threat of an east german peace treaty. one of the reasons it's thought he put some advisors in vietnam was to see that he could stand up someplace. so once the missile crisis is over and he stands with kruschev on precipice of disaster dean rusk once said nobody who went through the missile crisis went out the same way they came in. with john kennedy i think it was more true than anybody else. >> rose: there indications that he might have changed in terms of vietnam? >> well, yes, this is a
probability. the this is like running simulations and i think on balance they came out that he would have deescalated. in the end john kennedy's conclusions -- all the things he said. he said we don't have a prayer of staying here. they're going to throw our asses out sooner or later. if i try to do this before '64 there will be a mccarthy scare on our hands. >> i think we should vote on that, though, as to no one knows exactly what he would have done. there was a whole national feeling that lyndon johnson put, you know, i don't want to be the first american not lose a war. that pressure would have built on kennedy's -- i don't think kennedy ever would have gone as far as lyndon johnson did, but he wasn't going to walk away, either. >> all great, but what that requires if you take it from that point of view is that kennedy keeps americans in harm's way, some of them get killed in 1964 just so they can
that he can get to the election and win the election. okay. i'm not so sure he would have done it just for that reason but let's accept that. then you get to 1965. thin he wants to get his big program through congress, a lot of domestic bills. he had postponed until he hoped to get reelected with a landslide in the second term so in 1965 at a time when he's trying to get bills through congress on education and poverty and housing and civil rights is that the moment he's going to choose to withdraw from vietnam and have the huge burden of americans saying that you're selling out the country and soft on communism? i'm not so certain. >> put the spotlight on that conversation wean richard russell and lyndon johnson in 1964. >> hawkish russell. >> so my argument is you don't
-- you've got to figure out what he might have been doing through 1964 and it seems that richard russell was saying >> let's talk about bobby kennedy and the relationship between the two brothers. some said jack kennedy might not have ever been elected if the bobby kennedy wasn't there. >> someone mentioned about teddy you know, bobby never got invited upstairs to private dinners that he was likely -- he was like a kid pressing his face against the restaurant wall. as important and as much as he trusted his brother, generally trusted his brother, john kennedy had to be in control all the time and this included with his own family and his brother who had some real gaps in his political and historical knowledge >> i think their relationship has captured in the iconic
black-and-white photograph that has -- it's in shadow against the window. i don't think there's ever been a president with a close advisor like bobby kennedy was to his brother. >> if there was a tape recording you would have heard large silences because from the way -- in fact, i even saw this as a guy working in bobby's office long after john kennedy is dead is there's a certain way that they communicate that if you're an outsider you don't get. there's all pronounce. there's no proper nouns. they know where they're going on this. >> rose: doesn't that make the point on how important bobby was to him? >> well, it doesn't make a point on whether his advice is always good. and there are many instances in which he was a hawk compared to his brother and his brother was a cold warrior. >> there's no question that the first couple years -- >> rose: he didn't write him off.
>> well, his determination to get rid of castro -- >> rose: bobby? >> that was a fixed idea in his head you don't know where this would have gone had there been more time because in the missile crisis he did play a role of looking for alternatives. >> i call him the advisor and chief that book. >> rose: number one in camelot's court. >> yes. he had no chief of staff and he today somebody who chided him for making bobby attorney general "you're going to get into political hot water over this." and he said "i need somebody to put my feet up over this." and i think bobby was important in that he could confide and talk to him in candid ways. doesn't mean he was going to follow everything bobby said, which he didn't. because you're right, bobby was a fierce hawk. >> rose: really. >> yeah. >> rose: i want to talk about temperament and intelligence. in temperament you spoke to the sense of almost a detachment.
>> well, he the fact that he almost died on several occasions -- it's a critical point because it argues that he probably would never have personalize add war the way johnson said "i will not be the first president." but it also suggests on domestic affairs that detachment might have made a much less ambitious problem. i can't imagine john kennedy calling for a great society. because the detachment of which you speak is also about how much you think you can accomplish as the head of a government. i don't think we would have phrased "great society." >> rose: michael? >> he would have shrunk from the kind of overstatement that l.b.j. used hourly or by the minute. but one thing i remember is that the great political scientist who was my revered mentor at williams college wrote the first biography of john kennedy, came out in 1959 and one of the things he said-- and it reflected what a lot of people felt that the time-- john kennedy is not someone at whose
funeral strangers would cry. look how long he came. >> rose: i think you can stay grandiosity -- >> rose: unlike, say, roosevelt, michael? >> yes, because what what burns was saying was that kennedy was known '59 and 1960 as this sort of almost bloodless politicals a pir rant who intellectually was doing the right things but burns sped whether he has the commitment of the heart as well as the head is something that remains to be seen. >> the country not about intellect, as we're seeing these days in front of us. it's about judgment. as rood veldt said, a first class temperament. >> but this detachment when he died -- the quote that michael just said sent a shiver down my spine because the tears that were shed at his actual funeral, i mean collectively the
country's sadness at kennedy's death is, you know, sort of unparalleled national grieving. >> it was such a blow to the country's sense of self-regard. >> and its sense of youth and everything. >> it took the promise away from the country. i mean, it hit them in the gut. >> we were out there. in a way whatever conspiracy theories one wants to believe that there was a culture of assassination in the kennedy administration. particularly with mr. castro and then the deaths of other people and who turns out to be the victim but the man who created that culture. >> but the point that survives us, it was such aless violent culture. whatever was going on within the bowels of the c.i.a. or the white house, we hadn't lost a
president in 60 years. the crime rate had only begun -- through the' 650s and '70s it would make this a much more fearful country. people don't do such things. that line, that's part of what was so shocking. nobody would be shocked today if a public official was shot. back then it was quite literally unbelievable. >> rose: what was it that pat said when he was here? >> i think mary mcgrory, the washington correspondent said to him around the funeral "we'll never laugh again." and moynihan said "we'll laugh again, we'll just never be young again." >> rose: and it was jacqueline kennedy based on your piece, i think, in which she supposedly said "there will be great presidents again, but there will not be camelot again." michael -- go ahead. >> rose: and she may not have been doing him a great service in the end because you remember we were talking about earlier the fact that the pendulum swung away from the adoration of kennedy in this country in the
mid-1960s and in a way she did it with the best of motives but by suggesting that metaphor of camelot, she was really setting him up for the later revisions. >> rose: you were going to say intelligent judgment matter but it's judgment. >> it's judgment we judge presidents on. again, because it's a reactive job and the question is what do you do? often the subject is not thought about. >> that raises the question for me is do you have to be -- where does judgment come from and is it therefore an argument far lot of experience? because you could argue that -- >> well, it's harry truman and barack obama. harry truman governed by instinct with a deep knowledge of history that people really didn't know he had and barack obama, who i certainly like, tries to do it by intellect, by analysis, by what's logical. and politics is not logical. >> and charlie i once asked david mccullough, how do you judge who's going to be a good
president before they get to be president? he says you can't. any time we try to set down -- so who's the most experience president we've ever had in terms of dealing with washington lyndon johnson. but his judgment about the world was thin. >> rose: limited. >> and lacking and i think helped lead us to a disastrous war. >> rose: the distinctions they made between johnson and kennedy. kennedy had probably gone across the atlantic more than johnson had been across the country. >> but, you see, we're talking about a difference in grandiosity. is in other words, kennedy's grandiosity was aimed at the world. get world peace. he said foreign policy can kill you, domestic politics can unseat you. so he was a foreign policy president. johnson, his grandiosity was being another franklin roosevelt or eclipsing f.d.r. >> rose: let's talk about the assassination and the investigation and the warren commission. it seems to me the conventional wisdom of almost most people i
know believe the warren commission was flawed but they got it right in the end. is that what we should say or is there more to say about that? >> i think so. that's my judgment. because 59% of people in this country still believe there was a conspiracy. and, charlie i think -- >> rose: including evidently, john kerry. >> well, that's what i heard. you know, i think people can't accept the idea that someone as inconsequential as oswald could have killed someone as consequential as the president. also they can't accept the fact that such a thing could be so fortuitous. you know, kennedy was wearing a back brace when he was shot. that first bullet that went through his neck, if he hadn't had the back brace on it would have knocked him over and the bullet that found the back of his head and killed him never would have found its mark. so there was something so utterly fortuitous about this. but people can't except this, they have to believe that there was some larger design.
>> i'll make two points. one is there were plenty of powerful people who would have lished that kennedy died. organized crime, maybe some of the cuban exiles. >> john birch society in dallas. >> so the idea that this insignificant guy who, by the way, fits the profile of almost every other assassin and alleged assassin, whether it's the guy that almost killed kennedy in 1960 or the man who almost killed roosevelt or john hinckley, these -- the kind of -- >> and whoever shot the duke that started world war i. >> deranged folks with a kind of twisted -- in oswald's case a twisted self-taught illiterate marxism. that's who does these things. lincoln, a conspiracy. but i think robert dallek is right. it seems somehow more fiting if he were killed for a great reason. >> well, he also had thought about assassinating other people. i forgot the right wing
general's name -- edwin walker. >> he was shot at mass. which makes it just to make your point even more improbable that he hit the mark on november 22. because he was at closer range then. >> it was an easy shot. >> rose: it was not a hard shot. >> the limousine was turning a curve so that he was at kennedy's back. it wasn't a car going by at that point, he was basically stationary target. >> and the rain had stopped minutes earlier. so. >> rose: so the legacy of shim, richard reeves? the kennedy years? what's the legacy? >> the legacy i would say --. >> rose: of this unfinished life. >> of this unfinished life, i think among the many things he did well, the fact of the matter
is the most important thing about him, because of his health, is that he did not wait his turn. he destroyed the system that would not have made him president. he didn't wait his turn and now in america no one does. >> rose: barack obama being the latest. >> another example. yeah. >> rose: thank you all. back in a moment. stay with us. >> from dallas, texas, the flash apparently official. president kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. central standard time. 2:00 eastern standard time. some 38 minutes ago. vice president lyndon johnson has left the hospital in dallas but we do not know to where he has proceeded. presumably he will be taking the oath of office. >> rose: many americans recall where they were when they heard the news. clint hill remembers. he was there. he is the secret service agent who jumped on to the back of the
presidential limousine when the three shots were fired. for years he refused to speak publicly about the tragedy he had witnessed firsthand. now he's put his thoughts down in writing. his new memoir is called "five days in dallas." i'm very pleased to have clint hill at this table for the first time. welcome. >> thank you, sir. >> rose: no one who has been involved in journalism as long as i have will ever forget-- because he was a friend of mine-- mike wallace and the conversation you had with him. >> yes. >> rose: and how hard it has been for you to come to grips with all the experiences you had on one day in one moment. >> it had been very difficult but over a period of time it's gotten much better. especially after i was convinced to write this book and the previous book "mrs. kennedy and
me" has been cathartic for me. >> rose: i want to talk about a number of things. "time" magazine's cover story says "the moment that changed america." this is the second paragraph in a piece that was written here in this magazine called "we have lived with it for half a century. it is one of the most brutally violent scenes ever captured on film. the one of the most brutally violent scenes ever captured on film. i won't describe it more closely because even people -- even in print it is too wrenching. i will do, as many writers have done, and tell one particular detail as a way of suggesting things even worse, that jacqueline kennedy opened her white gloved hand to show secret service agent clint hill a bit of skull clutched in her palm. >> it was very, very gruesome. she had retrieved that material, it was on the trunk of the car and when i got up on top of the
car, put her in the backseat she opened up her palm and it was there and she said "i have his brains in my hand." she didn't even know i was there at that time and then i got ahold of her, put her in the backseat. >> rose: you were on top of her? >> i got up on top of the backseat and lay there between the left and right side of the car trying to form as high a shield, a barricade, as i could to prevent anything else from happening. >> rose: when you first heard the shot, where were you and what did you do? >> i was in the car immediately behind the presidential vehicle. on the left-hand side of the car a running board, in the front position and we had just turned down on to elm street from houston. we were going slower than we normally had been. we were going maybe 10, 12 miles an hour and i was scanning to the left. there weren't many people there but i was scanning to my left and straight ahead and i heard this explosive noise over my right shoulder. and so i turned toward that noise and when i did that my
eyes went across the back of the presidential car. and i saw the president react to the first shot. he grabbed at his throat and then he went to his left. now, you have to understand, he had a back brace on. so he couldn't go forward. he was sitting up against the right side of the car so he couldn't go to the right. he could only go to his left. >> rose: what was your conversation with mrs. kennedy after you got to the car. you almost didn't make it. >> i slipped at first because the driver it this accelerator. i had to take a couple extra steps in order to get up there. we didn't have any conversations per se. she was in a state of shock. but she did say that about "i have his brains." and she said "oh, jack, what there v they done?" then she said "jack, jack, i love you." that's all she said all the way to the hospital. >> rose: and when you got to the hospital, she didn't want to go in because she didn't want what? >> she didn't want people to see
the condition he was in. we had to first move the governor out before we moved the president. the governor was seated in front of the president. mrs. connally right in front of mrs. kennedy. so once we got the governor out we started to try to get the president out but she had ahold of him and wouldn't let go. so i pleaded with her, said "please, mrs. kennedy, let us help the president. i didn't get any response at all. i said it again. then i recognized what the problem was having been with her a little over three years. i knew she didn't want anyone to see the condition he was in. because it was gruesome, it was terrible. >> rose: the back of his skull was blown away. >> the bullet entered back of the skull and it blew out this portion. just blew it out and -- kind of a flap went forward. and it was terrible. so so i took off my coat and covered up his head and when i did she let go of his body and
we put him on a gurney and rushed him into the emergency room. >> rose: when was the next time you spoke to her? in the emergency room i had my associates stay with her all the time because they had me get on a phone to let the white house in washington know what had transpired. >> rose: that was bobby kennedy? >> when i was talking to the white house the operator cut in and said the attorney general wanted to talk to me. so i talked to them and he asked me what had happened. what's going on down there were his exact words. and i explained what had happened. >> rose: what did you say? >> i said "the president's been shot and the governor's been shot and we're in the emergency room at parkland hospital in dallas." and then he said "well, how bad is it?" i didn't want to tell him that his brother was dead. they hadn't announced it yet but i knew. so i simply said "it's as bad as it can get." and he hung up the phone.
>> rose: just hung up. >> yeah. >> rose: what happened then? >> well, about that time my supervisor came out of the emergency room and said "this is not for publication but tell jerry--" that's who i was talking to in washington, jerry bane, the agent in charge of presidential protection at the time. "tell him the president is dead." and then we suggested to him that he notify family members so they didn't hear it from the press. because we knew the press was going to get ahold of it very quickly and it would spread like wildfire. >> rose: what was going on in dallas at parkland hospital? >> at that time doctors came out and said "the president's dead." so kenny o'donnell came out and said to me the "clint, we need to get a casket. we need something to transport the president's body back to washington." well, i was a stranger in dallas but i got ahold of the hospital administrator and they put me in touch with the o'neil mortuary in dallas.
i ordered a casket and they sent it to the parkland emergency room. and it arrived and we brought the casket in, took the body. put hit in the hearse and brought mrs. kennedy out. i said "mrs. kennedy, will you ride in this car back here?" she said "no, mr. hill, i'm going to ride in the back with the president." so she crawled in the back of the hearse and i crawled in behind her. so there we were in the back of the hearse, president's body in the casket. admiral merkley, mrs. kennedy and me. >> rose: is there a conversation? >> nothing was said all the way to love field. nothing. she was absolutely just -- >> rose: devastated? >> there wasn't anything she could say. >> rose: then you went directly to the plane? >> right to air force one. air force one crew removed some seats in the rear of the plane. we carried the casket up. we had a difficult time getting it through the door because of the size. we had to break the handles off.
placed it in the rear of the aircraft and then mrs. kennedy came on board and senate that rear portion. the. >> rose: where the casket was? and then the question came of the swearing in of lyndon johnson. >> there was an immediate problem because at first we had forgotten that lyndon johnson was even on the plane. we knew he had gone back to love field but we were sure he'd gone on air force one or was on air force two. well, he was on air force one. apparently he had been talking to somebody in washington and the decision had been made that he needed to be sworn in while we were still on the ground in dallas. but that required a federal judge, they said. so we had to locate a federal judge and they located vair hughes who was a dallas resident apparently, and a federal judge. she came on board and she was about to administer the oath to vice president johnson.
>> rose: and lyndon johnson wanted mrs. kennedy there. >> he did. he thought it would be appropriate for her to be there when he was sworn in. >> rose: and she made the decision that it was appropriate, in the country's interest. >> yes. >> rose: you didn't. >> well, i didn't know if it was appropriate or not because of her -- i was concerned about her well-being. her state of mind. i knew she was in a state of shock. i mean, the the photographs of her standing there it's not the same person you normally saw, really. not facially. so i was worried about it. >> rose: these are a couple of photographs. this is -- this is the first photograph. you've seen this. that's right before going in. >> that's just as -- right after the first shot. >> rose: right after the first shot. right after the first shot? >> yes. you'll notice on that photograph i'm looking at where the president is. the other agents are looking back at where the shot came from. as well as people in the crowd who came there to look at the
president. >> rose: and the shots coming from here? >> and there's the school book depository. >> rose: this is you here? >> this is me here. >> rose: oh, with the glasses, right on the running board of this car. >> that's just before i jumped off. >> rose: because you're seeing what's happening to the president. >> yes. >> rose: and here is you -- is this >> that's after i got up on the car. >> rose: and she's back -- >> i'm in the process of putting her in the backseat. >> rose: and this is you finally getting -- >> getting positioned on the top of the backseat. >> rose: you can never forget this. >> i never will. >> rose: for a while, and in conversation with mike wallace, my colleague at "60 minutes," you -- you couldn't forgive yourself. you blamed yourself for not reacting faster. are you past that?
>> not completely. i still have a sense that we had a responsibility to do that day. that was to keep the president alive. to protect him. we failed in that responsibility. the way i was brought up was that if you have a job to do you carry it through to the end result and in that day i wasn't able to. and that's what has always bothered she that i wasn't able to do anything. i was the only one who had a chance. none of the other agents had a chance. but because of where i was positioned and how it all developed i was the only one who saw that the problem happened and could respond quickly. by the time the other agents realized what had happened we were gone. it was too far. >> rose: could you have done anything about it, really? mike wallace said to you in that interview and i sty you and everybody else would say to you you could not have the got therein to have taken the bullet
which is what you would have liked to have done. >> yeah, i realize that. and i realized it in 1990. i went back to dallas. i walked dealey plaza, went up to the sixth floor of the school become depository and came away knowing that i had done everything i could that day. but there wasn't much more victim done. all the advantages went to the shooter. we didn't have anything. it wasn't -- i mean,. >> rose: he didn't have to be that great a marksman to do what he did. >> people don't realize how close it was to the point where oswald was to the point of impact on the street. it wasn't very far away at all. >> rose: what kind of weapon was it? >> it was 6.5 italian car canny. rifle. >> rose: is that a very accurate rifle? >> he had a scope on it. it's not a first-class weapon. it wasn't at that time. but he had trained with it. he had practiced.
and he was good a good enough marksman to do the job. >> i mention mike wallace. here's that interview. clint hill and mike wallace in 1975. >> you mean you would have gotten there and taken the shot. >> the third shot, yes, sir. >> rose: and that would have been all right with you >> that would have been fine with me. >> rose: but you couldn't. you got there in less than two seconds, clint. you couldn't have gotten there. you don't -- you surely don't have any sense of guilt about that? >> yes, i certainly do. i have a great deal of guilt about that. and i turned in a different direction -- if i'd turned in a different direction i'd have made it. it was my fault. >> oh! no one has ever suggested that for an instance. what you did was show great
bravery and great presence of mind what was on the citation that was given you for your work. 1963, extraordinary courage. >> mike, i don't care about that if i had reacted just a little bit quicker-- and i could have, i guess-- i'll live with that to my grave. >> it still bothers me. but i realize i'm not faster than a speeding bullet and i did everything i could. >> rose: tell me about-- because you served on mrs. kennedy's detail before the assassination. >> i was assigned to her beginning right after the election in 1960. i had been with president eisenhower and then they
assigned me to mrs. kennedy in november, 1960. >> rose: and when you became -- were you with her that -- >> i was with her that day in dallas. >> rose: you two developed a relationship of mutual respect. >> yes. >> rose: and what's important is clearly the respect you had for her. but what's really important is to understand and appreciate how she felt about you. share with me that. >> well, she trusted me. it got to the point where -- at first, when i first was assigned to her and went to meet her in georgetown at their home three days after the election in 1960 she didn't want me there, i didn't want to be there because i wanted to be with the president. but we agreed that we were going to have to work together. >> rose: she was 31 years old. >> and i was 28. we so we started out slow. but over a period of time we got
really to know and trust each other. it got the point where when she without travel overseas, for example, in 1962 she wanted to take caroline to italy. she didn't have any staff go with her except her personal assistant st. no press secretary social secretary. wherever there was a question about press or social activities or something about the foreign government she would turn to me. >> rose: you saw that. >> oh, absolutely. after that happened in august of 1963 they were even closer. they didn't used to exhibit anything in public. but if you look in the book you'll see they're holding hands they're doing that kind of thing commonly after that happened. >> and all the theories about the assassination, do you accept the single gun theory? >> i don't think there's any question. there was only one gunman.
lee harvey oswald. he fired three shots. all the shots that were fever they were filed in dealey plaza. we found his rifle up there. found the spent cartridges on the floor up there and they've tried to disprove that many different ways but nobody's ever been successful. >> rose: so what's your life like snowed >> well, since writing these books it's been much much better. i'm at peace with myself. >> rose: thank you for coming. this book is called "five days in november. "clint hill with lisa mccuban. thank you for joining us. see you next time. captioning sponsored by rose communications captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org .
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